The war of the leaking internet blacklists escalates. As Crikey reported on Friday, Senator Stephen Conroy reckons a list published the previous day by Wikileaks and dated August 2008 was not the ACMA blacklist of banned internet content — though “there are some common URLs [specific web addresses]”. Late Friday night, Wikileaks responded by publishing more recent blacklists, including one dated 18 March 2009, and threatening Conroy with legal action.

“A URL I believed to be prohibited content and submitted to ACMA this year for further investigation is included on this list,” says anti-censorship campaigner Michael Meloni.

Wikileaks also published instructions for obtaining the blacklist by downloading the free trial of certain internet filtering software — one of the Internet Industry Association’s Family Friendly Filters and one of those provided free to (a few) Australian families by the Howard government’s now defunct NetAlert scheme. Provided you’re reasonably tech-savvy, you can extract a list of URLs with the rather unambiguous name “Websites_ACMA.txt”. Depending on which version of the software you download, you get the August 2008 list as published, or something similar containing more recent material.

While Crikey hasn’t tried the procedure, there are reports that it works as advertised. At least it did until Friday, when the filter-maker posted a new version of their software — one that’s no longer vulnerable to the published trick.

Wikileaks has since gone offline, overloaded by the global interest. Speculation that it was forced offline by government attack or other interference is probably best left to the tinfoil hat brigade.

Before they disappeared, the Swedish-based Wikileaks warned off Senator Conroy with threats of legal action:

Under the Swedish Constitution’s Press Freedom Act, the right of a confidential press source to anonymity is protected, and criminal penalties apply to anyone acting to breach that right… Should the Senator or anyone else attempt to discover our source we will refer the matter to the Constitutional Police for prosecution, and if necessary, ask that the Senator and anyone else involved be extradited to face justice for breaching fundamental rights.

Senator Conroy may wish to consider the position of the South African Competition Commission, which decided to cancel its own high profile leak investigation in January after being advised of the legal ramifications of interfering with Sunshine Press sources.

Crikey asked Senator Conroy’s office whether this newly-leaked list was the ACMA blacklist, but they were unable to comment by our deadline this morning.

However, they have pointed out that the figure of 10,000 URLs mentioned in Friday’s story is not the “planned” size of an expanded ACMA blacklist.

“Concerns have been raised that filtering a blacklist beyond 10,000 unique addresses may result in network performance issues,” says the DBCDE documentation on the filter trials. The current trials include a lab test of the impact of a list that size.

Senator Conroy has also said that it was never the government’s intention to block all of the ACMA’s blacklist with the mandatory filter.

“The Government has indicated an interest in using ISP-level filtering technology to block URLs that display content that is Refused Classification under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, including child s-xual abuse imagery, bestiality, s-xual violence, detailed instruction in crime, violence or drug use and/or material that advocates the doing of a terrorist act,” he said on Thursday.

However that doesn’t match a list of seven statements made by the Minister or Government from November 2007 to 5 March 2009, making clear their intention to mandate blocking of “prohibited content” on the ACMA blacklist. Not a sub-set of it. Revisionism? Surely not.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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